Glenbrook images portray lush landscape lost in time
Published 9:31 am, Sunday, January 2, 2011
Try to picture a lush, quiet park on Glenbrook Road, with arched stone bridges and coolly tumbling water.
The image will likely draw a blank.
No such park exists today, at least not to the picturesque extent depicted in artist Whitman Bailey's 1937 sketch of Burleigh Park, as the land along the Noroton River between Glenbrook and Darien used to be called. Bailey, publishing the sketch in the Advocate on Sept. 11, 1937, drew a quaint stone bridge framed by supple trees and "leafy shadows," a peaceful spot where two people might take a leisurely walk on a summer afternoon.
The image might be vaguely familiar to residents of the Riverwalk Condominiums on Glenbrook Road. The bridge and what's left of Burleigh Park can only be properly seen from the parking lot of the Tudor-style condos, which were built in 1987. The arched stone bridge Bailey sketched was replaced in 1968 with another constructed of concrete and rusty metal, now dank-looking and intermittently sprayed with graffiti. The verdant profusion of trees is largely diminished and the banks of the Noroton River look barren, particularly in the middle of winter. Dry brush, dead leaves and gray rocks cling to the sides of the river, which is pockmarked by debris: sodden newspapers, empty cans, plastic bottles and what looks like an abandoned car seat. The Darien side, occupied by Fresh Meadows Lane, looks much the same, with rampant ivy and prickly branches leading to the water. It's not an inviting prospect.
When she moved to the neighborhood in 1986, Fountain wanted to discover Glenbrook's heyday, making trips to the Stamford Historical Society to glean whatever information she could about the area's history.
"What I learned about Glenbrook history I learned from the Whitman Bailey drawings," Fountain said. Burleigh Park was originally part of the Phillips Estate, owned by the family of Charles H. Phillips, a pharmacist from England who patented Milk of Magnesia in 1873. Phillips established the Phillips Camphor and Wax Company in Glenbrook, which became the Charles H. Phillips Chemical Company in 1885, and was run by Phillips' four sons until 1923.
Burleigh Park was once rural and tree-lined, dotted with small pavilions and statues, and stretched into now-residential streets in Glenbrook and Darien.
"It was really the private estate of the Phillips family," said Ron Marcus of the Stamford Historical Society. "It was apparently quite elegant and quite beautiful, almost like a small English country squire's house."
The main house on the estate, called Denehurst, was built in the Tudor style, which has been mimicked by the Riverwalk condos that now stand on part of the old property.
"There were more trees, more open space," Fountain said. "You can imagine the people in Glenbrook dressing up and maybe going after church."
Photos of the park dating from the early 1900s, which have been collected on the Stamford Historical Society's website, show gentlemen in bowler hats and women in long, high-collared dresses posing with statues and sitting in the shade of the pavilions, clearly enjoying a pleasant afternoon.
Bailey wrote in 1937 that the park had briefly been opened to the public, but was closed after "the appreciative visitors were made to suffer for the vandalism of the few."
The Phillips family may also have opened their estate to the employees of the Phillips Chemical Company, according to Marcus.
"They were very paternalistic to their employees," Marcus said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they allowed their employees to enjoy the beauty of the grounds."
Denehurst burned down in the 1960s, according to Fountain, and the rest of the estate has since been divided into residential homes and condos. The park is a shadow of its former self, a slice of river and trees squeezed between Stamford and Darien.
"Nobody gets a sense of the river when you're driving over it," Fountain said. "I just think most people, they're in a car when they drive over the bridge and don't think about the river or it's past. I don't know if there will ever be a time that the river will be made available to the public."